Disney World travel journal: The Mouse Diaries

IMG_0003So. Disney World. Where was I?

Panicking before we left, right?

Months ago, I’d decided to schedule our flight on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, so we’d have Saturday to prepare. (As it happened, though, Lily’s all-day Lego Team tournament landed on that Saturday, as did my niece’s baby shower up near Alpena. Phew!) Fortunately, we were scheduled on a 12:30 p.m. flight, so we got up at our usual, leisurely Sunday morning pace, checked out the forecast for Orlando (70s, a mix of sunshine and rain for much of the week), finished packing up our bags, and drove through snow flurries to the airport.

(As a sidenote, I’d packed a plastic grocery bag with about a half dozen snacks for the girls. By trip’s end, I’ll have wished that I packed an entire suitcase of them. The “general store” and cafeteria at the resort had prices in alignment with those inside the parks – which is to say, HIGH – so we could have saved a bundle right there, had I known.)

The girls have been on a number of flights by now, but they’re usually smaller planes, with two seats (or two and one) on each side of the aisle. The flight to Orlando was on a huge plane, with individual video screens on the back of each seat, which allowed passengers to choose a movie for herself.

The girls were gobsmacked, and prepared, on pretty much this alone, to declare this the best vacation EVER.

So we all happily plugged in: Joe watched “The Hangover,” laughing loudly every few moments (which I was glad to hear – he’s often so stressed and overextended professionally that I don’t hear him expressing unfiltered joy like this much anymore); Neve and Lily watched “Despicable Me 3” (again); and I watched Salma Hayek and John Lithgow in “Beatriz at Dinner” – because nothing says vacation like a film that ends in what appears to be a Virginia Woolf-style suicide. Am I right? Continue reading

Girls’ (snow) day!


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Last Wednesday night, after huge snowflakes fell onto my otter hat and melted in my eyelashes – I had just aggressively boot-plowed my way to and from the grocery a block away – Joe and I received nearly-simultaneous texts, automated calls, and emails telling us that the girls’ school would be closed the next day due to weather.

In the past, when I was part of a newsroom staff, this pronouncement would immediately set me into action. I’d message the owner of the girls’ old preschool, humbly asking if the girls could crash there for the day. (Thankfully, the answer was “yes” every single time.) We’d load their backpacks with their favorite toys and games and books; make them each a lunch; and then, more often than not, Joe and I would have them climb onto a sled, and we’d pull them to the local Montessori on foot. (The girls thought this was the best thing ever, by the way.)

Yes, I’d often end up working at home that day, anyway; but as many contractors know, trying to work at home while taking care of young kids is beyond pointless. It’s like cleaning up the kitchen while also cooking a multi-course meal. And honestly, I loved having the occasional day at home to myself.

Now, though, two years after my layoff, and in the midst of a month-long freelancing drought, the thought of taking them to their former preschool never crossed my mind.

I was even kind of looking forward to spending the day with them.

And let me tell you, that marks a substantive shift in thinking. I used to feel resentful and anxious about these kind of situations; how they, by and large, fell to me more often than not. After all, I was the one with the part-time journalist job (though I worked off the clock ALL THE DAMN TIME), while Joe had the more demanding, high-stakes, high responsibility litigator gig. On paper, it was a no-brainer.

But I still resented it, and worried that the girls would start climbing the walls after a few hours, and turn on each other and me shortly thereafter. Because this wasn’t what we were all accustomed to. It wasn’t our routine. So such situations previously filled me with maternal dread. Continue reading

Desk as time capsule (or, Making the case for a little clutter)

IMG_2699.JPGFinding personal relics in an old desk is such a cliché that when the girls pulled my childhood desk from our upstairs crawlspace on Saturday, I froze up, a little scared of exactly what I’d find in those drawers.

Stylistically, the girls might as well have unearthed a dinosaur bone. A heavy, bulky white child’s desk, with oddly regal, gold-painted trim and accents, the piece matched my old canopy twin bed’s frame (also now in Lily’s room, sans canopy).

“What are you guys doing?!” I asked the girls, as they stood at each end of the desk, in front of the drafty crawlspace’s open door.

“You said we could put your old desk in my room,” Lily said.

Oof. And really, I should have known better than to speak my thoughts out loud. Lily’s messy, modestly-sized room has gotten more and more cluttered over time, in part because she refuses to let me remove the glider that was originally placed there when she was born. You know. When I was NURSING her nine years ago, and there was nothing in there besides a crib and a small dresser. Plus, Lily had recently added a small table to her room to work on her art projects. It’s completely untenable, logistically speaking.

For this reason, I’d recently mulled over offering her my old desk from storage in exchange for removing the rocking chair, footrest, and table from her room. My instincts were right on: when I mentioned this bargain, Lily was immediately all in – a little TOO all in, I guess.

“I didn’t say we’d do it today,” I said to them, exasperated. We’d just spent the morning at Neve’s Lego team exhibition, where Lily was also working a volunteer, and we all needed to pack soon for Lily’s Girl Scout troop’s overnight at the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse. We didn’t have time for this project on Saturday.

Lily didn’t see the problem, though, so I explained that she needed to clean out the area of her room where the desk would go (no small task), and that I would need to go through the stuff in the drawers to clear them out.

Reluctantly, she let it go for the day.

But because she was up for much of that night at the Scout event, having a blast, and because there’s ALWAYS a hard comedown from that kind of thing the following day, she threw a hysterical screaming fit Sunday evening about TAKING A SHOWER. (“I hate this family!!!” Perhaps a dirtier tribe would be to your liking, then, sweetie?)

So while Lily was in the bathroom, mumbling a litany of hygienic injustices imposed upon her, I took up residence in the hallway, sure she was going to fake a shower (which she did) by running the water and getting in just long enough to get wet and nothing else.

Since the exhumed desk was a few feet away, I grabbed a drawer while I waited on Lily and started pawing its contents. Continue reading

How I went from ‘easygoing’ to ‘panicky’ before our Thanksgiving week Disney World vacay


When I was a kid, my holiday break from school usually consisted of an early, pre-arranged visit from Santa (as if his office processed individual requests and used second string reindeer); a seven hour drive to Clay City, Indiana to visit my Grandma and Grandpa McKee, where the latter would sit and spit chewing tobacco into a couch-side bucket filled with sawdust, and we kids would eat all our meals on TV trays; and then a single, brutal marathon drive to Panama City Beach (and later Bonifay), Florida to visit my twice-widowed Grandpa Schell.

As a prize for withstanding this feat of vehicular boredom (while 8 track tapes played the music of The Kingston Trio, Roy Clark, Cat Stevens, Anne Murray, Simon and Garfunkel, Roger Whittaker, and the Everly Brothers), my two sisters and I were usually promised a single day spent at Disney World. On that blessed day, we’d leave our hotel room early and take our place in a slow-moving sea of cars in Orlando, waiting for our turn to park and then take the shuttle, and then take the monorail, to the Magic Kingdom.

“How many things do we take just to ACTUALLY ARRIVE THERE?” I remember thinking. It felt like we were working through The Stations of the Mouse.

I was also floored by the $20 admission prices (adorable!), and Epcot was the big new addition. In fact, when I was about 12, I got a black Epcot t-shirt printed with the silver number 82, in honor of the new park’s opening year. Cutting edge stuff.

So I’d gone to the “Happiest Place on Earth” a number of times while growing up, and other than having some bizarre, neurotic breakdowns over choosing a single souvenir at day’s end (fatigued and overwhelmed by choices, I’d finally just grab a stuffed Dumbo or Thumper, certain I’d later regret my choice), I had mostly positive, nostalgic memories of being there. And later, when traveling with the Michigan Marching Band, I spent some pleasant-enough off-hours both at Disney World (for the 1991 Gator Bowl) and Disneyland (three Rose Bowls).

But it had been quite a while since I’d “done” Disney, obviously. As I heard friends talk about taking their families to Orlando, I got the sense that the whole Disney complex had grown and morphed into something I’d now barely recognize.

Cut to 2017. Our go-to annual vacation, Camp Michigania, was instead no-go this year. (It’s a lottery system, and for the first time in a while, we didn’t make the cut.)

“Well, the kids will be 6 and 9 this summer,” I said, way, way back in early spring. “Maybe this is the year we do Disney?”

And so it began. Continue reading

Camped out: the exit interview


During Camp Invention, Lily really got into reverse engineering washed up appliances.

When Lily was in preschool – and Neve was in utero – it dawned on me one day that complicated though our daily life often seemed, it would grow far more complicated when Lily aged out of year-round preschool, and we suddenly had to figure out what to do with her in the summertime. (I was spending my days in a newsroom back then, so my anxiety level spiked just thinking about this not-too-distant future conundrum.)

I asked friends with older kids what on earth they did with them in the summertime.

“We usually do camps, a different one each week,” one said. “So one week is Jedi camp, another is computer camp – things like that.”

I nodded in that way we all do when we’re taking in information and thinking “UH-UH, NO WAY AM I DOING THAT. THAT SOUNDS CUCKOO FOR COCOA PUFFS.”

But guess what? When the time came – Lily returned to her preschool for on-site “camp” the summer after kindergarten and first grade (I registered her for 2-3 camps then, for variety, and to dip our toe in the water), but after second grade, it became clear that Lily was ready, and needed to, move on. 

Yes, there’s a nearby private pool club – that seems to be a culture unto itself – that we may buy our way in to one day, provided we’re willing to swallow the not-cheap bond purchase, as well as the also not-cheap annual membership fee. But even then, I’d still need the time, the quiet, and the space needed to make my freelance work deadlines. The pool would ultimately be somewhere we might go after I pick the girls up from camp, not an all-day option.

So Joe and I finally had to acknowledge the truth that all working parents must face when they’re kids grow out of preschool: you know that crazy weekly day camp thing our friend told us about? Yeaaaaah. That’s probably what we need to do, too. Continue reading

I lost 7 lbs. in one month – but did I really need to?

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 5.42.56 PM.pngSo where was I?

Oh, yeah. Reluctantly making an appointment with a nutritionist/dietician at my doctor’s urging, because my medical-resident-du-jour thought added weight was the cause of my recently diagnosed (and successfully treated, BTW) sleep apnea.

Not that I felt like there was a problem. I’m in good health, I exercise regularly (including running a few times a week), and while I’ve put on a few pounds – which may have accumulated while my apnea went undiagnosed and untreated for months – I chalked the weight gain up to the ravages of aging and post-layoff stress. I’d been trying to embrace, not fight or go crazy-nuts over, the natural shape of my middle-aged body.

So in mid-July, I found myself in a consult room, feeling like a kid who’d been called down to the principal’s office.

The dietician – a tall woman with long, gray hair – entered, sat down in front of a computer and began asking me questions, beginning with, “What do you want to get out of today’s appointment? Why are you here?”

I shrugged like a moody, petulant teen and said, “I’m not sure. I guess I’m here because the last doctor I saw thought I should try to lose some weight, and that this might solve my sleep apnea issues.”

The uncomfortable, pregnant pause that followed indicated that I had my doubts. Continue reading

My body, myself


Do I dare eat a peach?

Please, Prufrock. More like, “Do I dare I eat a muffin?”

For a few weeks ago, while visiting my primary care physician’s office to follow-up on my sleep apnea diagnosis, I was told  – by one of the newest additions to the always-churning medical resident carousel at U-M – that my established need for my beloved, miracle-working BiPAP machine at age 46 was troubling.

Not for me, of course. That little machine may well have saved my life, and I’m a happier, better-rested person because of it. I’d totally make out with my BiPAP, if that was a thing.

But it’s troubling to them. The medical establishment. Even though I run 3-4 miles just as many times a week, and take a weekly 90 minute yoga class, plus at least one weightlifting workout, and seem/feel totally healthy, requiring no medications in my daily life.

“Exercise doesn’t have that much affect on weight,” said my resident du jour, annoyingly dismissing my protests. “It’s really more about diet. I’d like you to make an appointment with a nutritionist here.”

Wait – what? Isn’t there a multi-billion dollar industry built on the idea that workouts equal weight loss? Why the hell am I subscribing to Beachbody on Demand, ugly-sweating with Shaun T in my living room once or twice a week? And why in God’s name are doctors keeping this a secret from us all?!

I DECLARE SHENANIGANS!!! Continue reading

How cultural critiques in ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ surprised the crap out of me

Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 11.42.37 PM.pngPotty humor, fart jokes – these have never been my thing.

Even in childhood, which is normally a kind of golden age for scatological humor, I remember feeling condescended to every time a kids’ movie or party performer resorted to passing gas for laughs. (Ever the cultural critic-in-training, I thought the pint-sized equivalent of, “Really? That’s all you’ve got? Maybe you should put in a little more effort.” And then I probably yawned, like a pretentious little jerk. But seriously. Mini-me kind of had a point.)

So, resolved: I’ve long been dubious about the comedic value of poop, pee, and farting, which has made parenting young kids – who are constantly talking, and cracking up, about these very things – an eye-roll-inducing trip. It’s begun to feel like ironic karma, as has my two daughters’ longstanding affection for Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books.

You know where this is going, right?

Yep. This mom that made a rule a few years back about “no potty words at the table when we’re eating” found herself in a multiplex theater on opening day for “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” Because “Tra la la!!” – the hubs needed to go to a work thing, and taking the kids to an air conditioned theater after school sounded like an easy, welcome escape hatch. Continue reading

(Nearly Empty) Ring of Keys

IMG_1536.JPGA couple of months ago, I lost my keys.

And like many an overwhelmed, middle-aged parent of young ones, I’d accumulated so many keys over the years that I didn’t even know what some of them were for anymore. A bike lock I’d lost years ago, maybe? Our old house (which has been rented out to others for more than a decade now)? Random luggage padlocks? One of those steering wheel locks that were absurdly ubiquitous in the 90s (a/k/a The Club)? A fob for the girls’ old preschool, and another for entering the now-defunct AnnArbor.com newsroom after-hours?

Yes, my over-packed, out-of-date key ring was the ticket for my daily trip down Befogged Memory Lane. It felt weighty and full and solid in my hand. It vaguely hinted at what lay behind me, as well as my more current responsibilities.

Of course, we all occasionally lose track of our keys, and usually, it’s a stressful-but-temporary blip. After frantic searching, we’ll find them hanging from the front door’s knob, or in a coat pocket. So I didn’t think much of it at first. In fact, I quickly determined what must have happened. Because my library card is on my key ring, too, I was sure that when I went down the street to check out a few books I’d had on reserve, I must have left the keys at the self-check-out counter.

But it turns out that I hadn’t. And I’d already checked everywhere else. Continue reading